I've been thinking a lot about Paul's conversion experience. Often, when we talk about our conversion, or when we talk to someone else about turning their life over to Christ, we talk about going to heaven, or having a more fulfilling life. Don't get me wrong; I totally believe that this is a major part of becoming a Christian, and I am truly grateful for both. However, I've been caught off guard when reading about Paul's encounter with Jesus.
When Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, he encountered glory. He was knocked off his horse, saw a light brighter than the sun, heard a voice, and then went blind. From Acts 9 we learn that this voice, whom He quickly learned belonged to the Lord Jesus, told him to go into the city of Damascus and "you will be told what to do" (9:6). In Acts 22:10, the wording is, "you will be told all that is appointed for you to do." Finally, in Acts 26:16-18, we get even more details:
" 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,' the Lord replied. 16'Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. 17I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.'What strikes me is the clarity of calling that Paul receives. What is happening is that allegiance is being shifted. Paul goes from persecuting Jesus one day, to becoming His servant the next. As you can see, he receives "'forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me" (eternity in heaven), but these are just a small part of Jesus' plan for Paul.
From the very beginning, Paul learns that he will suffer in this calling (Acts 9:16). By the time Paul is in Caesarea standing before Festus and Agrippa, it's safe to say that around 25 years have passed since his conversion on the road to Damascus. Paul has been faithful to his Master's calling. And during those 25 years, he has suffered a great deal. We learn through his writings that he wouldn't trade that suffering for anything, because it has led to the Gentiles becoming disciples of Jesus.
I am so encouraged by Paul's life. And as I continue to read the story of the early church, I am in awe of Jesus. His plans are so beyond my plans. His thoughts are so beyond my thoughts. I put Him in a box so often (or at least I think I do). I desire to see this type of transformation, but am I willing to go through all that Paul went through?
I guess that's the question we all have to ask ourselves every day.
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.